Book Two of the Silverweed Falls Series
(Just getting here? Start with the Prologue here)
“A bad boy reputation is fine as far as it goes, but you’re on the verge of letting it get out of hand.”
Chris McPherson, successful actor and grown man, looked up at his publicist as she paced the office, and shifted uncomfortably. He felt like a schoolboy being scolded. She had that effect on him.
Thanks to countless Botox treatments, Sherri had long since lost the ability to frown, but she could still manage to look pretty darn pissed when she wanted.
Watching her expression carefully, Chris wondered, not for the first time, how old she was. Judging from her face, which was attractive and unlined and framed by shoulder-length waves of honey-colored hair, she might have been forty. Judging by her hands, which were gnarled and veiny, she might have been seventy.
That was Hollywood for you—glitz and glamour, smoke and mirrors.
It was a weird place sometimes, but Chris rolled with it because so far Hollywood had been pretty good to him. He’d done his share of waiting tables and working construction when he’d first arrived, a hick from small-town Oregon with a beat-up Nissan and the same big dreams as thousands of other young hopefuls. He’d gotten lucky, though. A few commercials had led to a small role in a popular sitcom, which had led to a lead role in a spin-off, which had led to a sidekick role in a series of comedy movies which had, at last, led to the lead role in Galactic Crusaders, a comedy-action blockbuster that would be premiering in July.
He was on the brink of stardom, and the only thing standing in his way was … himself. That, and a hair-trigger temper.
“Galactic Crusaders is supposed to be family friendly,“ Sherri reminded him. “You can still come back from a drunken brawl—though I’m not happy about it—“ she glared at him without moving her eyebrows, “but so help me, if it turns into drugs or call girls, it’ll be good-bye sequel.”
“How can they do a sequel without me? I’m the lead,” he objected. “Anyway, there’s no drugs and no call girls. I didn’t even throw the first punch—“
“You’re the co-lead,” she corrected him. “Vanessa Swink is box-office gold at the moment. Trust me, you’re replaceable.”
He rolled his eyes. “Vanessa got her start in porn,” he pointed out. “She’s a nice girl, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not family friendly. Some asshole in a bar takes a swing at me, and suddenly I’m the bad guy.”
Sherri sighed before sitting down in the chair across from him. They were in her office, a sleek modern room with enormous windows that overlooked LA. She pressed her lips together and graced him with a knowing stare. He met her gaze for a moment, then turned toward the window and pretended to be looking at something in the far distance.
There was, in fact, somewhat more to the story of the fight in the bar, which involved several shots of top-shelf vodka and a protracted verbal argument that Chris had certainly not done anything to diffuse. He coughed uncomfortably, but Sherri spared him the effort of coming up with something to say.
“My point,” she said with exaggerated patience, “is that this is the third time that the police have had to be involved in one of your escapades. So far, you’ve been lucky enough to not get formally charged with anything.” She shook a maternal finger at him. “You have the looks and the talent to make it big in this industry, but you wouldn’t be the first pretty boy to crash and burn just as his career was taking off.”
The “pretty boy” remark stung, even though she’d prefaced it with a remark about his talent. His steady climb to almost-stardom had been almost too easy; it sometimes made him wonder if he’d simply lucked out with his good looks and charm and that his career would fizzle as quickly as it had taken off.
He frowned sullenly. “Well, what do you think I should do about it?”
“Stop getting in fights, for one thing. And I want to get you associated with some kind of good cause. I want you to be the face of human trafficking or fat kids or whales or something. Are there any good causes you feel particularly strongly about?”
She looked at him intently.
“Um …” He tried not to squirm under her scrutiny. There wasn’t really anything he was incredibly passionate about. Back in college, he’d been majoring in environmental studies before he’d dropped out … “The environment, I guess?”
She pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Pretty broad, but plenty to choose from. Clean water is very in these days, but a lot of celebs have jumped on that one. Polluted oceans, maybe. You grew up on the coast, right?”
He shook his head. “Not really. Out in the country about an hour and half drive from the coast. Near a town called Silverweed Falls.”
Sherri pursed her lips and looked thoughtful as she got up and went to her desk. “That reminds me …” She flipped through a stack of papers before returning and handing him a letter with a photograph clipped to it. “This came in with your fan mail. Jenny thought you might want to see it.”
He was getting an increasing amount of fan mail these days, but fortunately Sherri’s office took care of most of it. He got his share of letters from weirdos, lonely women—and a few men—who sent naked pictures of themselves or made bizarre propositions. Usually Jenny simply sent back a polite form letter and an autographed photo, though he knew she kept careful records in case a fan began to exhibit stalker tendencies.
For a moment, he thought this letter might be one of those, but as soon as he registered what the photo was, it drove all other thoughts out of his head.
“Oh wow,” he whispered to himself, a smile spreading across his face and a rush of nostalgic memories flooding his mind. “Where did this come from?”
He turned the photo to show it to Sherri. “Did you see this? It’s the cast of Much Ado about Nothing. It was my first leading role, back in college. I was Benedick. Look, that’s me in the middle.”
He bypassed the pretty woman who stood next to him, dressed in a low-cut, Renaissance-style gown, a flush of shame creeping up the back of his neck as he remembered their last encounter. He pushed her from his mind and focused on pointing out the rest of the cast to Sherri.
“That’s Simon. He was Don Pedro. That’s Brice.” He pointed out a handsome middle-aged man with a mustache and goatee. “He played the villain. That’s Jennifer. And Luke.” He was lost in the memories now. “And that’s Victor Blumen, the director. He was my first real drama teacher. First guy to tell me I had what it took to be an actor.”
Damn, when was the last time he’d been in touch with Victor? He ought to send him a letter or call him. Tell him thank you.
Sherri smiled politely at the photo. “Why don’t you read the letter?” she suggested gently.
He put the photo on the table and picked up the letter.
I hope you’re well and happy in Hollywood. Victor and I have been watching your progress from the small screen to the big one, and we’re so proud that we get to say we knew you when. Victor brags to everyone about how you got your start with the Silver Scene Players. (You know how he is.)
It’s about Victor and the Players that I’m writing, actually. You know Victor founded the Players 19 years ago, with the idea of bringing free Shakespeare performances to the town every summer. Sadly, Victor’s health hasn’t been good over the past couple of years. He has cancer, and we’ve accepted the fact that it’s terminal.
“Oh, shit,” mumbled Chris. Sherri glanced at him keenly but he kept reading.
We weren’t able to put on last year’s production, and Victor is in no shape to direct this year’s, either. We’ve had our minds on other things and haven’t done any fundraising or outreach for almost two years now. I’m afraid we’re looking at the end of the Silver Scene Players.
Vic’s done a lot with his life, but I know that SSP has been his special project, the one that he hoped would be his legacy to the community. It would mean the world to him—and to me—if you could help us put on one more play this summer. We’d love to have you direct it, but of course we know you’re busy. If that’s not possible, perhaps we could enlist you in some fundraising and publicity efforts. Please let me know if you’d be willing to help out.
We’re really proud of you.
Sherri tactfully pretended to be checking her email while Chris composed himself. The news that Victor was dying was a blow, and a confusing mess of grief at the impending loss, guilt that he hadn’t been better at keeping in touch, and eagerness to act surged within him.
“Thanks for making sure I saw this.” He cleared his throat. “I think we’ve found our good cause.”
Sherri would have frowned if she could have. “What do you mean?”
“The Silver Scene Players. I’m going to go back to Silverweed Falls and I’m going to, uh, save the Silver Scene Players.”
He felt faintly ridiculous making this pronouncement. It was community theater, after all, not whales, but it was the cause he wanted to get behind.
Sherri looked faintly put out. “I was thinking of something … bigger for your good cause. Cancer, maybe?” she suggested hopefully. “And you do have commitments this summer to Galactic Crusaders, don’t forget.”
He waved a hand impatiently, eager to get on with helping Victor. “It’s all post-production and publicity stuff now. It’s almost all during regular weekday hours. I can fly up to Silverweed Falls on the weekends.”
“Well, why don’t you get in touch with your friend—“ she glanced at the letter, “—Simon, and see what it is he really needs. I still want to see you get involved in a bigger good cause, but we can certainly use this. It might be interesting.”
Chris could almost see the wheels in Sherri’s head turning. She was a genius at spin and had salvaged the reputations of far more degenerate celebrities than him. He’d hired her on the advice of his agent, Noel, simply to raise his profile, but she’d proved adept, so far, at distracting the public from his occasional lapses of judgment and making him sound like a much better man than he really was.
He hated to use Victor and Simon and the Players as a salve for his reputation, but if he could keep Sherri happy while getting behind a cause he truly believed in, then so much the better. He’d spent more than a decade focused on himself—his success, his fame, his climb to glory—and the idea of helping an old friend and contributing to a worthy cause was like a much-needed breath of fresh air to him.
And of course, Joy might still be involved in the Players, or at least still living up in Silverweed Falls …
He quickly suppressed the thought as unworthy. Whatever Joy was up to these days wasn’t the point. The point was to go and save the Silver Scene Players for Victor.
He stood up, carefully folding the photo in the letter and tucking them into his jacket pocket. “I’ll get in touch with Simon and let you know what’s going on. Thanks, Sherri. I appreciate your help with everything.”
She shook his hand and gave him a pat on the arm. “You just stay out of trouble from now on, please.”
She made as if to walk him to the elevator but he waved her off and wished her a good day. He was ready to be alone and think over what he would say to Simon.
On the way out to the elevator bank, he passed Darla, the firm’s receptionist. She was a classic LA girl, a pretty face, long blond hair, and long tanned limbs wrapped up in a tastefully revealing dress.
“It was good to see you, Mr. McPherson,” she breathed at him, flipping her hair as he walked past and sweeping him with an appreciative glance that went slightly beyond her receptionist duties.
He didn’t like being called “Mr. McPherson,” but he didn’t want to ask her to call him Chris in case it gave her the idea he was interested in her.
He wasn’t, and even if hadn’t been reeling from the news about Victor, he wouldn’t have been. He’d had his fill of pretty young starlet types, more interested in his good looks and burgeoning connections than in any other part of him. He’d seen the eager look on Darla’s face on too many other faces, too many other times.
She offered no challenge, no novelty, no charm. He smiled politely at her and walked past.
He stepped into the elevator and let the door close behind him before taking out the letter and carefully unfolding it.
He stared at the photo, reliving the memories it represented, and this time, he couldn’t avoid looking at her.
She smiled boldly at him, and her green eyes laughed at him across time. The woman who’d teased him, had made him laugh, and who hadn’t put up with his crap.
The woman he’d never quite been able to forget … though God knows he’d tried.
Acting on Impulse, Book Two in the Silverweed Falls Series, will be available October 12, 2017.